A model who was left with a concussion, torn ligaments and a cracked rib after they were accidentally thrown out of their wheelchair has blasted Jetstar as she called on all airlines to have greater respect for disabled people.
Akii Ngo, who is non-binary, uses they/them pronouns, and is a disability access consultant, was left traumatized from the May 14 fall, and urged airlines to ‘fix the system’.
Less than two days after making runway history at Australian Fashion Week, the 28-year-old arrived at Adelaide Airport, where they were ‘thrown’ from their wheelchair, as a result of a Jetstar staff member’s ‘thoughtless’ actions.
‘The flight bridge has a lot of lumps and bumps, and I was being pushed across it by a staff member who was obviously careless, as it resulted in me being thrown off the chair,’ Akii told Daily Mail Australia.
Akii hit their head on the metal and glass flight bridge, before hitting the floor
Akii lying on the floor outside the Jetstar plane after they fell out of the wheelchair
Akii made history back in May when they took part in Australian Fashion Week in a wheelchair
Instead of apologising, Akii claims the staff member became ‘defensive’, blaming them for the incident even though safety measures to prevent a fall — like an arm rest or seatbelt — allegedly weren’t in use.
‘I was in excruciating pain, literally on the floor, and the first thing the staff member did was blame me by yelling “why didn’t you hold on tighter, or be more stable?!”
‘They didn’t ask me if I was okay. They said it was my fault, and that they weren’t aware I needed to be strapped in, even though that’s best practice for aisle chairs, which are a lot thinner and more unstable than standard wheelchairs.’
Akii said incidents like this have been prevented in the past through the use of seatbelts, clear communication from staff when being pushed over bumps, and being able to use their own wheelchair as soon as they de-plane.
Thanks to Adelaide Airport policy, Akii was unable to use their own wheelchair, which was sitting at baggage claim throughout this incident.
Living with physical and neurological disabilities that impact their mobility—as well as severe chronic pain—it took Akii a significant period of time, and a great deal of pain, just to get up off the floor.
Akii in happy times, before they were left with injuries after the wheelchair incident with Jetstar
‘I couldn’t move. I tried so hard to get up, but it was just so agonizing,’ Akii said.
‘I was literally lying on the ground with people watching and staring at me while I was crying in pain. As you can imagine, it was humiliating, traumatic and incredibly upsetting.
‘The staff member didn’t try to help me, but even if they did, and even if they were trained in manual handling, I didn’t consent to them touching me, especially considering how unsafe they made me feel by blaming me for what happened.’
Sensing they’d need evidence of the incident, Akii’s partner began recording their heartbreaking encounter—a video they later posted to social media.
‘It’s not easy for me to share this video,’ Akii wrote online.
‘It’s never easy being vulnerable and seeming weak. But I am just one of thousands of disabled people being treated terribly each and every day. And for that reason, I won’t be silent.’
Akii was highly distressed at the incident with their partner posting footage of the altercation to social media
Akii said the incident was particularly disheartening after experiencing so much disability pride and joy at Australian Fashion Week.
‘It was such an incredible week, with so many highs. But experiences like this are a blatant-in-my-face reminder that there’s still a long way to go,’ they said.
‘One of the main pieces at Australian Fashion Week was a coat with the statement “fix the system, not me” . . . and yet, the first thing that staff member did was to blame me, and fix whatever I supposedly did wrong, instead of fixing their systemic issues.
‘It shows that we can make history, and have this incredible event with disabled models trying to change the system, and bring awareness to the challenges disabled people face, like ableism and inaccessibility. . . but then it’s back to the harsh reality that the system is still broken.’
A Jetstar spokesperson said the incident was still being investigated.
‘The safety and welfare of our customers is our number one priority, and we’re taking this claim very seriously,’ they told Daily Mail Australia.
‘A number of team members attended to assist the customer on the aerobridge, and assisted them through the airport to the baggage carousel.’
‘Our team members are well-trained to provide assistance to customers requiring wheelchairs, and we continue to investigate what happened in this incident.’
‘We’ve also reached out to the customer several times to better understand their experience, and are waiting to hear back.’
Akii is calling on all airlines to ‘do so much better’ after her incident on Jetstar
Akii — who has auditory processing disorder — pointed out that not all methods of contact are accessible, especially phone calls when you’re deaf or hard of hearing.
Akii wants accountability, and hopes that by sharing their story, airlines will consider their outdated policies for wheelchair-using passengers, and be mindful of the everyday challenges mobility aid users face when it comes to air travel.
‘Enough is enough. Jetstar need to do so much better. They took no accountability, and just gave my partner a 1300 number and told me to make a complaint,’ they said.
‘(Jetstar) kept telling my partner and I to calm down, saying “we deal with hundreds of wheelchairs a day, this has never happened before” over and over again.’
As an avid traveler, Akii is no stranger to catching planes.
In fact, traveling is one of their favorite hobbies—but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult and dangerous as their symptoms worsen, and their mobility declines, requiring full-time use of their wheelchair and other mobility aids.
‘Catching a plane is a really stressful situation when you’re a mobility aid user, even without an incident like this,’ Akii said.
‘In the US alone, about 55 wheelchairs get severely damaged or destroyed every single day, so it’s a lot of trauma and stress to travel when you’re a mobility aid user. You wonder: are they going to damage my mobility aid? Are they going to treat me with respect?
‘Wheelchairs aren’t cheap. If an airline loses your luggage, yes, it’s inconvenient—but you can generally go out and buy a new outfit. But that’s not something someone with a mobility aid can do, because it’s literally required for mobility. It’s not a choice.
‘I really hope airlines can listen to the experiences of disabled passengers—because everyone deserves the right to be able to travel safely.’
Zoe Simmons is an award-winning disabled journalist who writes to make a difference. Check out her website, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for more.